There are motorcycles and then there are the motorcycles that people want to be buried with. There are motorcycle company logos and then there is the motorcycle company logo that people tattoo, permanently, on their arms. There are brands of motorcycles and then there is Harley Davidson.
Before you say – hey, why am I reading a article about Harley Davidson, I want to read a article about association marketing, Harley and associations have more in common than what meets the eye. Similar to what the Harley Davidson brand does for the company, your association’s brand is critically important to the health of your association because it helps you build member awareness, affinity and engagement.
A less than a second glance at the Harley Davidson logo tells you that it’s Harley. In fact I could probably strip the logo off a Harley advertisement and you would still know it’s a Harley ad. The marketers there consistently tell the story that their ideal customer needs to hear. Predictably they use the same color pallet, photography style, logo, font, etc.
It is hard to build a brand when there is inconsistency. Associations run into trouble when conference materials look far different than published materials which look far different from the association overall. Additionally few associations have the means to develop and promote multiple brands. If your quarterly magazine is carrying its own unique brand name it may be causing more confusion than adding value.
Brand affinity is the feeling of connection created in just the right person. Look at Harley’s advertising (Google search: images for Harley Davidson print ads) and think about what they are really selling. It not air-cooled, four stroke, twin cam, 1900 cc engines with 6-speed transmissions. They don’t even talk about their trademark sound. They are not marketing features and benefits they are hoping for customer affinity.
The Harley market team tells a story of freedom, adventure and even mild-mannered rebellion for the person with that particular worldview. Their customers think – people like me take to the open road on a sunny Saturday morning, people like me gather with other people like me at events and cruises and people like me buy a Harley. Most associations market their version of a 1900 cc engine when they could be marketing the experiences you get with your membership.
The other parallel between Harley Davidson and associations is community. When you buy a Harley you are not just buying a motorcycle you are joining a community. Have you ever seen the secret motorcycle rider wave? When you get that wave you feel part of something bigger. What about the huge events? Can you imagine the emotion tied up in attending Daytona Bike Week or the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally for Harley enthusiasts? There is emotion for your members too. We just don’t usually tell that story. Instead of saying, come to our conference to network with 4,200 professionals like you, can you tell a story about the actual experience members have, much like the way Harley tells it?
Members are not just purchasing membership they are buying entrance to a community of people like them with the same worldview. Now how do you build your association’s brand to tell that story?
Until recently many big brand companies used very superficial branding tactics – logos, taglines and jingles. Since consumers had very little choice these tactics worked. Things have changed and these big brands have stepped up their game offering superbly delivered brand experiences. Associations now have this challenge and opportunity as well.
Amanda Kaiser helps associations learn about modern member marketing. She blogs at www.smooththepath.net where she discusses association branding, storytelling for members, innovation and member insights. Follow her on Twitter at @SmoothThePath.